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Monday, October 01, 2007

In Praise of Idleness?

So good old Max Weber was on to something after all with his Protestant Work Ethic. So, at least, say researchers from Bath University who claim to have found that Protestant countries have the highest employment rates.

If it's true, it's fascinating that the effect still persists in an age in which nominally 'Protestant' countries are not exactly noted for the extent of religious piety. In other words, the work ethic is still weaving its spell over people who never go near a church.

Of course, it's easy to think up 'Yes, but what about...?'s. E.g. the richest part of Germany, with the lowest unemployment rate, is overwhelmingly Catholic Bavaria. And the Catholic Irish aren't exactly doing badly now that external circumstances have at last given them half a chance.

One or two more are raised by the collection of religious spokespersons whom Ruth Gledhill feels obliged to consult. They make points of varying convincingness. Taking Irene Lancaster first, I'm sure the researchers wouldn't dream of denying the strength of the Jewish work ethic, but there is the problem that Jews have normally been in a small minority and thus not able to exercise a decisive influence on the societies in which they live.

Concerning the anonymous Catholic spokesperson's contribution, yes, I'm sure Pope Benedict has said lots of good things about work, but Catholics don't always take a huge amount of notice of what the Pope says...

I suspect Catholicism and Hinduism are alike in that they point both ways: there is a work ethic, certainly, but it is in competition with an ideal of world-renunciation which is much less strong in either Protestantism or Judaism.

Coming to Islam, our spokesperson says 'it was not possible to make an accurate comparison with Islamic countries because too many of this countries were dictatorships or monarchies, where the original values of Islam had been suppressed.' Begging a question or two, perhaps?

I confess to being a little disappointed that Ms Gledhill couldn't find a spokesperson willing to say 'our religion glorifies idleness, and jolly good too'. Maybe he/she was still in bed when she phoned.

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